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Commitment To Research

The DeGroote School of Medicine has a robust research agenda in collaboration with our McMaster University partners, affiliated hospitals, and local communities. Ongoing research activity and a general orientation toward academic inquiry, innovation, and discovery, provide students with a nurturing environment to explore their own research interests.

While not a requirement of the MD Program, around 70% of students will engage in some sort of research activity. This may include continuing research that was undertaken during a prior degree, joining research programs already underway with McMaster faculty, or the development of new research questions based on content covered while studying medicine.

Many opportunities and resources are available to students to support their pursuit of research while in the MD Program. Research can be explored concurrently with the remainder of the curriculum through horizontal and block elective periods. Enrichment periods of up to one year can be used by students who want a slightly more intensive research opportunity. This time can also be enhanced with clinical electives to enhance the application of ongoing research and to further explore career opportunities. Some students will use the enrichment period to complete coursework in a McMaster-based Masters program, such as Global Health or e-Health.

The MD/PhD Program is available to students who have a strong interest in research and see this as being integral to their future career as a physician.

Each campus has slightly different research opportunities for students. Research opportunities in the Hamilton Campus are typically less structured and more self-directed; however, the number of faculty engaged in research activities is significantly greater than in the Regional Campuses. Conversely, the Regional Campuses have both structured and unstructured research opportunities and more local support to facilitate engagement of students in research. Potential students are advised to review the research programs and supports available in each campus if they are considering participating in research activities while in the program to determine the best fit for their interests.

Students may request time off from the program to present their research at conferences. The program financially supports student travel for conference presentations.

Getting Started

Participating in Research & Scholarship at MACMED

Research is the systematic investigation of a given field to create and validate knowledge.

McMaster University is one of the most research-intensive universities in Canada. In this guide, we provide information on how to engage in research and scholarship across McMaster University and its affiliated hospitals and research institutes. Many of these strategies will help engagement with researchers at other institutions around the world.

You do not need prior research experience to be successful in research as a medical student. You just need to bring in an inquisitive mind, and a genuine willingness to learn and grow. All else will fall into place from there. It is possible to be successful in research within the time you have in medical school, and we have many glowing examples of your peers who embraced this approach and achieved their goals.

The information contained in this guide is based on conversations and feedback we received from students and supervisors. The McMaster Research Interest Group members, and discussions with faculty and students have shaped the ideas incorporated in this guide. We hope that you find this guide helpful, and that it will help set you up on the path to research success.

Objectives: The purpose of this guide is to

  1. Understand the importance of research and scholarship for medical students
  2. Highlight the types of research that medical students can engage in
  3. Provide guidance on engaging research supervisors
  4. What is expected once you have secured a research placement

Understanding the importance of research and scholarship for medical students (see tabs below): 

Related Pages

Questions? Contact Research & Scholarship Program Administrator, Ms. Naznin Alam, or the Director of Research & Scholarship, Dr. M. Constantine Samaan:

Good luck with your Research & Scholarship learning!

Why should I do research? Can I wait until I become a resident?

We hear this question frequently.

Research continues to be the backbone for knowledge generation used to take care of patients. Most decisions made in a clinician’s daily practice involve the use of evidence that came about because someone (very much like you) took time to create the body of evidence to support clinical practice.

Research participation is an ideal opportunity to build critical thinking skills that are important for a future career in the profession, and may help some students forge a career path in academic medicine. It also gives you the opportunity to understand how evidence you use in patient care comes about, and this will allow you to keep up with an ever-increasing knowledge base.

Many medical schools, including McMaster, recognize the importance of research and scholarship at an early stage in a medical career. In fact, there is some evidence that the delayed engagement by medical students in research can result in lower future engagement and lost opportunities to enhance their careers.

We believe that it is never too early to start enhancing you research and scholarship involvement. Importantly, while this needs to fit into the bigger picture of your life as a medical student, it may form a springboard to your future career choices.

Highlights of the types of research that medical students can engage in:

There are many world experts in their fields of knowledge that a medical student can work in. Some broad categories of research that you can consider include:

  1. Clinical research: This is one of the more common types of research that medical students get involved in. This type of research involves a broad set of methodologies that study human participants to generate data and answer clinically relevant questions.

    Participant engagement by medical students can involve an applied approach, whereby students are involved in recruiting participants into cohort or randomized controlled clinical trials among others. Alternatively, medical students can be involved indirectly in clinical studies by participating in retrospective chart reviews.

    Another approach in clinical research is the participation in synthesizing current knowledge by being involved in systematic reviews and meta-analysis of existing evidence or patient data.
  2. Wet laboratory-based research: This type of research involves being part of a laboratory-based research group and performing bench research. It may be difficult for a student with no prior research experience to do this type of research; however, there are several success stories of MACMED students being successful in this type of research that you can read about on the website and be inspired.
  3. Translational research: This research involves using hybrid approaches of clinical and bench-based research. Typically, this type of research begins with a question that can arise in the clinical setting, and a study is then designed to collect and analyze patient samples at the bench to answer the question. Then, answers are taken back to the clinic to help patients. The process can work in reverse as well, whereby a bench-based finding can trigger a study of the phenotype resulting from a biological process.

    The bedside-to-bench and bench-to-bedside research approaches are some of the most powerful approaches to address clinically relevant questions, and medical students can be involved in this at several levels on the spectrum of opportunities in both bedside and bench worlds. Do not discount this.
  4. Quality improvement: This is another area of scholarship across Hamilton Hospitals.

    In this type of work, clinical practice is compared to standards of care, with attempts made to modify practice and improve care delivery and outcomes. Be on the lookout for those opportunities in the clinical settings. They can also be encountered in the educational settings.
  5. Qualitative research: this is a field of research that involve using qualitative methods to answer questions about opinions, attitudes, and behaviours. It can generate hypotheses to allow quantitative research approaches noted above to be undertaken.

How to engage research supervisors: 

Who can be a research supervisor? The definition of a research supervisor varies widely. They are typically Clinician Scientists, Clinicians or Scientists who do research that can range from an individual project per supervisor to a whole research program.

In addition, you may work with technicians, research assistants, research coordinators, residents, graduate students, clinical fellows, research fellows, and postdoctoral fellows to name a new. These individuals typically will be working with a faculty member, and they may be an invaluable resource for your learning.

Clinician researchers have been in your shoes at some point in their career, and have walked the same path that you are walking on. Supervisors understand what you are trying to achieve, as they did it themselves. So approach them with this understanding in mind, and that they will have a genuine interest in helping you achieve your goals. Someone must have helped them along the way to get this far in their distinguished careers.

It is important to note that while supervisors and their team members will give opportunities and support the learning of medical students, the outcomes depend on how the opportunity is used to achieve a good working relationship with the supervisor and their team, and complete a research placement.

You need to determine what area of research and scholarship you want to work in, how much time you can devote to research, and what you want to get out of it early on in the process. These are important early questions you need to answer, so that you can have the right start in your efforts.

Many supervisors do not expect students to have much research experience, but they are looking for a student who has a positive attitude about learning and growing through the learning process.

We recommend that you consider the following good practice guidelines about how to engage supervisors:

  1. Define the area of research you would like to pursue. This sometimes is helped if you do some reading in your areas of interest.
  2. Search on the University or research website for the Medical School for supervisors who are working on your area of interest. Visit the latter regularly, and check the weekly newsletter, as opportunities will be advertised when they become available.
  3. Once you identify a supervisor or a group of supervisors you are interested in their work, email them or make an appointment to meet them (virtual is fine, but ideally in person) with their secretary to discuss your research involvement.

    In the e-mail, let them know who you are, and what part of their work that you came across that seemed interesting to you. Make sure you let them know why are you interested in their area of research. Explain your previous research experience if you have done research in the past, and give them a short summary of your research skills. Attach an up to date CV to your e-mail. Thank them for considering your application.
  4. Know the Principal Investigator (PI) and the research group’s publications, as this is going to be in your area of research and it is important that you familiarize yourself with them. In fact, you should do this before you e-mail them and definitely before your first meeting, so that you may already identify a potential project before you meet with them, and you can discuss your potential involvement.
  5. You will be typically invited to a meeting, or the supervisor may refer you to one of their graduate students or other tem members. This is even better, as you can get a trainee to give you a ‘tour’ of the supervisor’s research program.

    Importantly, you can ask trainees about the supervisor’s track record of supervision, and see if students before you have been productive under their supervision. Ask questions about the lab environment, as tis will help you decide if this particular opportunity is for you.
  6. Do not despair if you do not hear back from the supervisor. There are many reasons that supervisors do not respond, and the key is perseverance. If a supervisor does not respond, give them 1-2 weeks, and e-mail them again. State that you did contact them recently and you were following up again to see if there are opportunities within their research group, as you are still interested in their area of research.
  7. Discuss your goals at the beginning of the relationship (e.g. abstract/poster, publication, time commitment). Sometimes, the supervisor needs to know how much you can contribute before making a decision about your future involvement. In addition, you need to find out if this project is what you want to commit to.

So do not be adamant about finalizing the output, but ask the question and set your goals so that they can think about you through this lens. 

Please note that if you are looking to publish a paper, this will require some time commitment, and not all medical student research work translate to a published paper. However, there are many examples of students publishing papers, and this is an excellent addition to your CV that will likely be viewed positivity in your applications for future training applications. Very few people will take it against you if you end up having a paper!

What is expected once you have secured a research placement:

I have secured a research placement. Now what? Congratulations on accomplishing this goal. Once you are accepted into a position, do your very best to do the following: 

  1. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your supervisor’s expectations including time commitments, timelines, deadlines, and deliverables.
  2. Meet deadlines–it is best that you volunteer these and stick to them.
  3. Respond to e-mails within 24-48 hours. Do not ignore supervisors. 
  4. Submit documents e.g. abstract, papers in advance for review by your supervisors if you need input. 
  5. Be open when feedback is given. Use the feedback to enhance your acumen, and maintain professionalism even if you disagree with the feedback. 
  6. Look for funding opportunities to support your work, and let your supervisors know so that they may help you identify these. The Medical School has a list of bursaries for all sorts of research, and funding opportunities are also advertised on the website and in the newsletter, so you can keep an eye for them.
  7. Let your supervisor know if you come across a suitable funding opportunity so that you can discuss the feasibility of submitting an application.
  8. If there is a problem, let your supervisor know as soon as possible. It is better to address any concerns early on rather than making things fester, and then a bigger problem has to be fixed.
  9. Ethics approvals:Make sure you check with your supervisor if your project requires ethics approval, as they can add you on an existing approval. Consult the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board (HiREB) website for further information if your project requires you to submit your own ethics approval application ( This can take time, so make sure you understand this process in advance.
  10. Digital medical records access:If access is needed to digital medical records, the supervisor will need to apply on your behalf; the approval process can take several days to weeks, so timely application is necessary.
  11. Literature search support:If help with literature search is needed, please consult this link or book an appointment with a Librarian.


Special research and scholarship set up for distributed Campuses

Hamilton Campus

Dr. M. Constantine Samaan is the Director of Research & Scholarship, Michael de Groote School of Medicine. Dr. Samaan holds monthly research information and engagement sessions, and devotes one hour every Wednesday to meet with students to address questions about research and scholarship participation. To enquire about the engagement sessions or to book an appointment, please contact Ms. Naznin Alam by email:

Waterloo Regional Campus

Dr. Andrew Costa is the Waterloo Regional Campus Research Lead for the Undergraduate Program and Postgraduate Medicine (General Internal Medicine, Paediatrics, Psychiatry). If you are interested in research at the Waterloo Regional Campus, he can support you with finding a suitable research supervisor as well as offer planning and methodological guidance. Please visit or email Graham Campbell (Research Assistant) at 

Niagara Regional Campus

Dr. Jennifer Tsang is the Niagara Regional Campus Research Lead for the Undergraduate Program. If you are interested in research at the Niagara Campus, she can support you with finding a suitable supervisor as well as offer planning and methodological guidance. If you are a Niagara Regional Campus student interested in pursuing a research elective, please contact Dr. Tsang directly:

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